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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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May 5, 2008

Naming of Names

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Posted by Derek

We order chemicals from all sorts of suppliers – big, reputable outfits like Sigma-Aldrich-Fluka all the way down to places that none of us even have heard of before. In those latter cases, the primary question is always whether or not the reagent will actually show up, and the secondary one is how long it’ll take. There are some of those small suppliers who pad their catalog with things that aren’t exactly available, not yet – but hey, they will be if someone orders them. They’ll just tell you it’s back-ordered, and tell someone in the lab to get cracking.

And when you get your compound in, they arrive in various forms. Glass or plastic bottles are the norm, naturally, with the occasional irritating (but presumably necessary) sealed-glass ampoule. But after some time in the lab, you can tell some of the suppliers from across the room. For example, the Japanese company TCI sends a lot of its compounds in normal-looking glass bottles, but these are first put inside capped plastic containers, like larger translucent versions of the ones that 35mm film probably still comes in. And once you taken them out, their glass bottles have these odd plastic labels on them which come up around the screw cap and are perforated around the cap’s border. On the labels, they also have that same thin, fussy, serif font that the Japanese have been using for Roman-style letters for decades (since the war?) and is only in recent years disappearing from their world.

Maybridge, British vendor of all kinds of odd stuff, often sends its compounds in these weird little squat brown-glass bottles with small black caps on them. They must have the world supply of that particular bottle shape tied up, since I’ve never seen one anywhere else. It most resembles the small bottles that solutions for injection are packaged in. So many of the company’s catalog items are in such bottles (or even smaller ones) that it seems wrong somehow when you come across a huge (huge for Maybridge) hundred-gram bottle with their label on it.

Most of the suppliers have neutral-sounding names like those above. They could be chemical companies, vendors of kitchen cabinets, real estate trusts, who knows: Maybridge, Oakwood, Lancaster (now gone, and their blue labels with them). And some of them are unmistakably in the chemical supply business, but rather blandly named (Pharmacore, for example, or Chembridge). Some names are, perhaps, mistakes: the namers of Asinex, for example, seem to have been unaware that the closest Engish word is “asinine”, which means that they have to hope for people to pronounce that “s” as if it were a “z”. (I should mention that both Asinex and Chembridge indulge in one widely hated practice: putting no useful information on their tiny vials other than a catalog number or bar code – Bionet (Key) is a similar offender).

In this dull company, I’m always glad to see the weirdos. I miss the now-purchased-away British supplier called Avocado – green labels, naturally – and always wondered who named them and why. Tyger Scientific makes me wonder if there’s an English major in somewhere at their founding, fond of William Blake. And there’s one company that came into the industry under the glorious name of, I am not making this up, “Butt Park”, and many are the chemists they’ve made stand puzzled in front of the supply cabinet. (I'd provide a link, but I can't find a direct one, and Googling it can be a real minefield).

I refuse to consider that name a mistake. That's a feature, not a bug, and I wish that there were more competition in the category. I would proudly and purposely send business to, say, Batshit Chemical Supply, Inc., even if they back-ordered me every single time.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. eugene on May 5, 2008 9:48 AM writes...

As you mention, it would be nice if every company included a formula, formula weight, density (if liquid) and melting point and boiling point on their bottles. I'm always a little frustrated when I don't have the density handy. Sometimes I mark it on the bottle myself after going to look in the catalog.

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2. weirdo on May 5, 2008 10:28 AM writes...

Funny, my first question when ordering from tertiary suppliers is: "Do they really know what's in the bottle?".

One of my favorite vendors is TransWorld. Good stuff, every time.

And then there's Frontier -- again good stuff. Another defunct airline name, but the chemical company is going strong.

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3. Marv on May 5, 2008 10:50 AM writes...


I work for a specialty chemical supplier, Fluorous Technologies, and based on the "Lucky Bonus Pack" post here of about a month ago, we are posting a few entries on our blog, which will describe our QA/QC procedure. Coincidentally, the first one happened to go up this morning and addresses your question.

Now we only have about 200 compounds in our catalog, which makes things a lot easier than a Maybridge, but we still do our best to ensure that everyone gets the right compound in the right quality. I honestly don't know how other companies approach this issue, but at least it will give you sense of how we approach it.

To read more go to:

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4. Sili on May 5, 2008 12:06 PM writes...

Iono - much like urea is known as carbamide when used in chewing gum, I'd expect Batshit Chemical Supply to be known as Guano Pharmaceuticals.

Sorry to hear about Avocado - they were lovely cheap as I recall it from my brief stint in Bath.

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5. Anonymous on May 5, 2008 12:27 PM writes...

I still think my favorite company name is AnalTech. I think they're still around. The last couple of labs I've been in have had at least one box of ancient TLC plates that were older than I was. Also, I love the commercials for the PPI drug Aciphex, did they say it out loud at any point during the naming meetings?

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6. chemprof on May 5, 2008 12:28 PM writes...

When I was an undergrad, we got organofluorine starting materials from a place called "Armageddon Chemical Company". The logo on the bottle was a mushroom cloud, as I recall. It was close to the U, so the grad students would drive over there to get stuff and they let me go with them once. It was a PhD working out of his garage with two operators.

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7. NHchem on May 5, 2008 3:22 PM writes...

That is why the ACD is a great tool. I helped put my old company's catalog together. While it took them two years after I left to finally get it on the ACD, it has made them a large sum of money. A med. chemist will pay whatever it takes for an odd little compound to make an analog so there is money to be had.

The evil empire of Aldrich is great but I always found Alfa and Acros to give better pricing and Alfa was really great since you would get next day delivery for no extra charge.

Nothing worst than paying more in shipping than for the compound (hello, Aldrich.....).

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8. Josee on May 5, 2008 3:48 PM writes...

Avocado was a great supplier, and are missed. I, too have been truly mystified by TCI's shrink-wrap-the-bottle packaging- what does it accomplish? I avoid Aldrich whenever I can- I've been burned too many times; they are the Wal-Mart of the chem supply business (without the whole cheap part). One thing that drives me insane about Alfa-Aesar though, is their continual reliance on Vermiculite, and the super fluffy tiny-particle stuff to boot. Damn, I hate inhaling it and cleaning the whole benchtop.

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9. CMC guy on May 5, 2008 3:51 PM writes...

A thing to realize about many catalog companies is that they often repack & distribute material purchased from the places who actually make and indeed can be only an on demand basis. When you get the same 4-6 week back order quote from different suppliers its very likely all getting from the same place. This also can be an issue when going up in scale as the single source may be able to make a couple Kgs per year but can not provide 10s to 100s Kg per annum you will need. As have pointed out previously although biology/med chem must determine the lead candidate many headaches down the road can be averted if time is taken to evaluate sourcing issues in the final stages of selection or earlier(an for NHchem ACD odd balls can be a bane for long term availability).

chemprof's story reminds me of many years ago I inspected some "GMP" suppliers who were not much more than "garage operations".

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10. Handles on May 5, 2008 4:42 PM writes...

A colleague once bought isonitriles from a former Soviet republic, and they were supplied in Corvoisier bottles.

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11. psi*psi on May 5, 2008 5:41 PM writes...

I like the GFS labels--they're cute and easy to pick out of the cabinet. Helps if you're trying to find an acetylene in our mess of a lab.

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12. Jen on May 5, 2008 11:07 PM writes...

LOL. I just used a hydrazide from Butt Park.

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13. milkshake on May 5, 2008 11:38 PM writes...

Once I was trying to order some weird substituted picolinic acid that was supposedly very cheap because it was an intermediate of a drug - and the only company that was "selling" it in US said they would have to get in touch with the manufacturer in Italy. Then they called back and said it was backordered because in that plant where they have it in ton quantities, they would have to open a barrel and spoon the stuff into a bag and ship it to us. So I asked what was the problem with that - and learned that in the factory they just finished campain, and closed down until mid-September and there was nobody with the authority to open the barrel. It was mid June when I called...

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14. processchemist on May 6, 2008 4:41 AM writes...


when you deal with reselling companies you can hear a lot of stories like this one... in Italy NO PLANT closes from june to september, and the time for the delivery was the time needed to produce the material from scratch.

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15. MTK on May 6, 2008 7:00 AM writes...

While I agree that the plant isn't going to shut down for that amount of time, it is possible that if the particular barrel was made under GMP that breaking the seal, recording the transaction, any resampling or re-analysis that may have been necessary, etc. may have made it more trouble than it was worth for a couple of grams. And it actually may have been possible that the person authorized to do all that was on vacation for a month.

For those not familiar with GMP every step requires documentation that the person doing the step is adequately qualified to do it. For example, one time we had to hold up release of a compound for two days because the two people documented to be trained to sample a batch had both called in sick. We had the compound, we had it properly stored and packaged, the analytical chemists were set to go, and we were dead in the water.

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16. Zak on May 6, 2008 7:25 AM writes...

The Japanese put that perforated plastic wrap around EVERYTHING, even plastic bottles of Coke and Pocari Sweat....

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17. yttrai on May 6, 2008 8:17 AM writes...

Their name isn't funny, but i will plug CHN Technologies. They are located in Woburn, MA, and for those of us located in Cambridge, MA, they are a godsend. They have some very nice chiral amines and alcohols, unnatural amino acids, etc etc, and generally manage next day delivery, even if you screw up and wait until 4 pm to order. I am seriously convinced they are breaking the sound barrier with their delivery trucks.

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18. Petros on May 7, 2008 2:21 AM writes...

Lacnaster were always very good, and one the first to provide a computerized catalogue- in Chembase format(predating ISISBase).

Avocado was much of the old Lancaster operation.

There were a few small Swiss or German suplliers who tended to be good for chrial amines and sugar derivatives, or lower cost D-amino acids, which we discovered when our development compound prper needed to start with D-glu.

Anyone else remember Pfaltz and Baeur, they ocassionally listed not readily obtained items. And in the UK there was Menai Organics, based by the Menai Straits, with a picure of the old bridge on all their paperwork..

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19. HelicalZz on May 9, 2008 9:50 AM writes...

Looking over a 1957 Journal of Biological Chemistry paper today. It had the following line:

ATP, ADP, AMP, DPN, CTP, GTP, and UTP were obtained from the Pabst Laboratories.

Blue ribbon compounds I expect.


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20. Jonadab the Unsightly One on May 26, 2008 11:21 AM writes...

Would you buy from a company named Brown Sludge Chemical Supply? How about Oobleck Warehouse?

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21. Frazzle on March 31, 2009 3:07 PM writes...

Key Organics in England have grouped their services under the name 'KOCAS!' I kid you not. Perhaps 'Mickey Mouse' would be more appropriate...

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22. Ken Grant on May 5, 2010 3:30 PM writes...

To Anonymous (#5) - Many thanks for the mention - we're proud to say that we're still manufacturing thin layer chromatography plates (doing that since 1961) - and, for those who are curious about the name, we have the whole story right here -

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